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In far too many lodges, Bible is a term used for the more appropriate and inclusive term, Volume of the Sacred Law. While it is beyond argument that the majority of members in North America are Christians of one denomination or another and that the Holy Bible is their Volume of Sacred Law, it is not to be assumed that such is the case for all members. To the Jew the TaNaCh is Sacred; the Koran for the Moslem, etc. To refer to the book on the altar as The Bible is as unmasonic as if it were referred to as the Koran or TaNaCh.

- Source:


Among Christian Masons the Holy Bible is undoubtedly the chief of the greater lights, for, placed in the centre of the lodge, it sheds its rays East, West and South. Amongst Hindus, Persians and Mahometans, their sacred books take a similar position.

- Source: Pocket Lexicon of Freemasonry


The Bible is properly called a greater light of Freemasonry, for from the center of the Lodge it pours forth upon the East, the West, and the South its refulgent rays of Divine truth. The Bible is used among Freemasons as a symbol of the will of God, however it may be expressed.

Therefore, whatever to any people expresses that will may be used as a substitute for the Bible in a Masonic Lodge. Thus, in a Lodge consisting entirely of Jews, the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the altar, and Turkish Freemasons make use of the Koran. Whether it be the Gospels to the Christian, the Pentateuch to the Israelite, the Koran to the Mussulman, or the Vedas to the Brahman, it everywhere Masonically conveys the same idea-that of the symbolism of the Divine Will revealed to man.

The history of the Masonic symbolism of the Bible is interesting. It is referred to in the manuscripts before the revival as the book upon which the covenant was taken, but it was never referred to as a great light. In the old ritual, of which a copy from the Royal Library of Berlin is given by Krause (Die drei ältersten Kunsturkunden der Freimaurerbrüderschaft, or The Three Oldest Art Documents of the Masonic Fraternity, 1, 32), there is no mention of the Bible as one of the lights. Preston made it a part of the furniture of the Lodge; but in monitors of about 1760 it is described as one of the three great lights. In the American system, the Bible is both a piece of furniture and a great light.

The above paragraphs by Doctor Mackey may well be extended on account of the peculiar position occupied by the Bible in our Fraternity. No one goes through the ceremonies and participates in Masonic activities uninfluenced by the Bible.

Studies of the Ritual necessarily rest upon the Scriptures and of those inspired by Bible teachings and language. One good Brother earnestly and faithfully labored to have certain ceremonies freely edited but when he, devout Churchman as he was, understood that sundry peculiarities of language followed the example of the Bible, he gladly gave up his purpose to alter that which abides equally typical of age as the Scriptures.

What had seemed to him mere repetition was meant for weighty emphasis, as in James (x, 27) "Pure religion and undefiled;" Hebrews (xii, 28) "with reverence and godly fear;" Colossians (iv, 12) "stand perfect and complete," and also in the Book of Common Prayer, the word-pairs "dissemble nor cloak," "perils and dangers," "acknowledge and confess," and so on.

These may well be mentioned here as the tendency to change ceremonies is seldom curbed by any consideration of the peculiar merit, other than their quaintness, of the old expressions.

The Scriptures, the Holy Writings, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Bible, this word Bible from the Greek, the (sacred) books; the two parts, Old and New Testaments, the former recording the Covenants, attested by the prophets, between the God of Israel and His people, Christ the central figure of the latter work speaks of the new Dispensation, a new Covenant, and the word Covenant in the Latin became Testamentum from which we obtain the word commonly used for the two divisions of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. These divisions are further separated into the books of the Bible, sixty-six in all, thirty-nine in the Old Testament, twenty-seven in the New.

We must remember that Old and New refer to Covenants, not to age of manuscripts.

Earliest Hebrew writings of, the Old Testament only date back to the ninth century after Christ, several centuries later than the earliest New Testament Scriptures.

There is also another method of division in which the books of the Old Testament are counted but as twenty-four, First and Second Kings, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and then the minor prophets, as they are called, being grouped as one for several hundred years by the Jews and then divided into two in the sixteenth century. Roughly we may divide the books into the law according to Moses; the historical books of Joshua, Samuel, and the anonymous historians; the poetry and philosophy; and the prophecies, of the Old Testament.

These standards the books contain are known as the canon, originally a measuring rod or rule. The canon to some authorities admits none of the books of the Apocrypha, which are of value for the insight they afford of Jewish religious life. There are the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, and the Latin Old Testament, the Vulgate (Septuagint, a translation traditionally made by seventy persons, from the Latin septuaginta; and the Vulgate, another Latin expression, applied to the Saint Jerome version and meaning what is common) which in these works include the Apocrypha, usually held uncanonical by Protestants, and then there are certain other books that both Roman Catholics and Protestants consider as having even less authority. Apocrypha comes from two Greek works krypton, to hide, and apo, meaning away. There is also an Apocrypha of the New Testament. Many Christian writings are of this class. Some add much light upon the early Church.

The New Testament was written at various times, Saint Matthew being followed about 64-70 A.D, by the work of Saint Mark at Rome. Saint Luke treats the subject historically, and claim is made that this writer was also responsible for recording the Acts of the Apostles. Saint John probably wrote his gospel near the close of the first century. His style is distinctive, and his material favored in formulating the Christian Creed.

The early Hebrew text of the Bible was wholly of consonants. Not until the sixth or eighth centuries did the pointed and accented lettering, a vowel system, appear, but before the tenth century much devoted labor was applied upon critical commentaries by Jewish writers to preserve the text from corruption. The Targum is practically a purely Jewish version of the Old Testament dating from soon before the Christian Era. The Septuagint is a Greek version used by the Jews of Alexandria and a Latin translation of the sixth century by' Jerome is the Vulgate. These three are leading versions.

The history of the several translations is most interesting but deserves more detail than is possible in our limited space. A few comments on various noteworthy editions, arranged alphabetically, are as follows:

Coverdale's Version. Known as the "Great Bible," translated by Miles Coverdale, 1488-1568, a Yorkshireman, educated with the Augustine friars at Cambridge, ordained at Norwich, 1514, becoming a monk.

By 1526 his opinions changed, he left his monastery, preached against confession, and against images in churches as idolatry. He was on the Continent in 1532 and probably assisted Tyndale in his task. His own work, the first complete Bible in English, appeared in 1535, the Psalms are those still used in the Book of Common Prayer. He was at Paris in 1538 printing an edition, when many copies were seized by the Inquisition, but a few got to England where the Great Bible was published in 1539.

Coverdale was Bishop of Exeter in 1551. An exile later, he had part in the Geneva edition, 1557-60.

Douai Version. Sometimes it is spelled Douay. A town in northern France, formerly an important center for exiled Roman Catholics from England.

Here the Douai Bible in English was published anonymously, translated from the Vulgate and doubtless by refugees at the Seminary at Douai and the English College at Rheims, the New Testament first appearing in 1582, the Old Testament in 1609--10.

Sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church the text has undergone several revisions, notably in 1749--50.

Genevan Bible. Called also the Breeches Bible from its translation of Genesis iii, 7 "They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches."

Printed in a plainly readable type, this 1560 edition improved the former black-letter printing and was a complete revision of Coverdale's "Great Bible" in a bandy form.

Following the plan of a New Testament issued at Geneva in 1557, a Greek-Latin one in 1551, and the Hebrew Old Testament, this Bible had the text separated into verses and there were also marginal notes that proved popular.

King James Version. Known also as the Authorized Version, a task begun in 1604, the work was published in 1611, the actual revision requiring two years and nine months with another nine months preparing for the printing. Doctor Miles Smith, Bishop of Gloucester, 1612, tells in the old preface of the style and spirit of his associates.

They went to originals rather than commentaries, they were diligent but not hasty, they labored to improve and (modernizing the good Bishop's spelling) "lid not disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered, but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see."

Mazarin Bible. Notable as the first book printed from movable metal types, about 1450, probably by Gutenberg in Germany, but this is also credited to other printers, as Peter Schoffer. The name of this Latin reprint of the Vulgate is from that of Cardinal Mazarin, 1602-61, a Frenchman in whose library the first described copy was discovered.

Printers Bible. An early edition having a curious misprint (Psalm cxix, 161), the "Princes have persecuted me without a cause," reading the word Printers for Princes.

Revised Version. A committee appointed in February, 1870, presented a report to the Convocation of Canterbury, England, in May of that year, that it "should nominate a body of its own members to undertake the work of revision, who shall be at liberty to invite the co-operation of any eminent for scholarship, to whatever nation or religious body they may belong."

Groups of scholars were formed shortly afterwards and similar co-operating companies organized in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church declining to take part. Ten years were spent revising the New Testament, submitted to the Convocation in 1881, the Old Testament revision in 1884, the revised Apocrypha in 1895. After this conscientious labor had calm, not to say cool, reception, changes were made in favorite texts, alterations upset theories, for some, the revision was too radical and for others too timid, even the familiar swing and sound of the old substantial sentences had less strength in their appeal to the ear and to many the whole effect was weakened. Yet this would naturally be the result of any painstaking revision, especially so with a work of such intimacy and importance.

Later revisions have appeared. One from the University of Chicago is a skillful edition of the New Testament by Professor E. J. Goodspeed, whose attempt to reproduce the spirit today of the conversational style of the old originals is praiseworthy as a purpose, though we shall probably all continue to prefer that best known.

Tyndale's Version.. William Tyndale, 1490-1536, was born in Gloucestershire, England, on the Welsh border, went to the Continent, first to Hamburg, then to Cologne, to translate and print the Bible. This publication forbidden, he and his secretary escaped to Worms where an edition of the New Testament was completed in 1526. His pamphlets indicting the Roman Church and the divorce of the English king, Henry VIII, were attacks without gloves and powerful influence was exerted in return. His surrender was demanded.

But not until 535 was he seized, imprisoned near Brussels, tried for heresy and on October 6, 1536, strangled to death and his body burnt. His translations are powerful and scholarly, his literary touch certain and apt, experts crediting him with laying the sure foundation of the King James Version of the Bible.

Vinegar Bible. A slip of some one in an edition of 1717 gave the heading to the Gospel of Saint Luke xx, as the "Parable of the Vinegar," instead of Vineyard.

Wicked Bible. An old edition,1632, which omits by some accident the word not from the seventh commandment (Exodus 14).

Wyclifle's Version. Spelled in many ways, John of that name, 1320--84, an English reformer, condemned to imprisonment through the Bulls of Pope Gregory XI, the death of the king and other interferences gave him some relief, but his attacks did not cease and his career was stormy. Dying in church from a paralytic stroke, his remains, thirty years later were, by a Decree of the Council of Constance and at the order of Pope Martin V, dug from the grave and destroyed by fire. Wycliffe's personal work on the translation of the. Bible is in doubt, be it much or little, though there is no question that his main contribution was his earnest claims for its supreme spiritual authority and his success in making it popular, his devotion and ability paving the way and setting the pace for the pioneer English editions known by his name, the earliest finished about 1382, a revision of it appearing some six years later.

The reader desirous of studying the Bible will get great help in locating passages by any Concordance, listing the words with their text references, Cruden's of 1737 being the basis of English editions. A Bible Dictionary and the Encyclopedias assist in unearthing many details of consequence. Several special treatises on various important persons and places are available, the scientific publications of the Palestine Exploration Fund, established in 1865, very useful. The study of the life of Christ is readily pursued through the New Testament with what is called a Harmony of the Gospels, an arrangement to bring corresponding passages together from the several documents, a convenient exhibition in unity of the isolated but closely related facts. Books on the Book of all Books are many.

Reason and Belief, a work by a well known scientist, Sir Oliver Lodge, is not only itself worthy but it lists others of importance for study. Appeal of the Bible Today, Thistleton Mark, shows how the Bible interprets itself and how it bears interpretation, a book listing freely many other authorities and itself also of great individual value.

These are typical of many excellent treatises.

Of the literary values, two books in particular show clearly the influence of the Scriptures upon pre-eminent writers, George Allen's Bible References of John Ruskin, and The Bible in Shakespeare by William Burgess, the latter treating a field which many authors, Eaton, Walter, Ellis, Moulton, and others, have tilled. Listen to John Ruskin (Our Fathers have told us, chapter iii, section 37) on the Bible. It contains plain teaching for men of every rank of soul and state in life, which so far as they honestly and implicitly obey, they Will be happy and innocent to the utmost powers of their nature, and capable of victory over all adversities, whether of temptation or pain.

Indeed, the Psalter alone, which practically was the service book of the Church for many ages, contains merely in the first half of it the sum of personal and social Wisdom.

The 1st, 8th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 24th psalms, well learned and believed, are enough for all personal guidance; the 48th, 72nd, and 75th, have in them the law and the prophecy of all righteous government ; and every real triumph of natural science is anticipated in the 104th.

For the contents of the entire volume, consider what other group of history and didactic literature has a range comparable with it. There are:

I. The stories of the Fall and of the Flood, the grandest human traditions founded on a true horror of sin.

II. The story of the Patriarchs, of which the effective truth is visible to this day in the polity of the Jewish and Arab races.

III. The story of Moses, with the results of that tradition in the moral law of all the civilized world.

IV. The story of the Kings-virtually that of all Kinghood, in David, and of all Philosophy, in Solomon: culminating in the Psalms and Proverbs, with the still more close and practical Wisdom of Ecclesiastics and the Son of Sirach.

V. The story of the Prophets-virtually that of the deepest mystery, tragedy, and permanent fate, of national existence.

VI. The story of Christ.

VII. The moral law of Saint John, and his closing Apocalypse of its fulfillment.

Think, if you can match that table of contents in any other-I do not say 'book' but 'literature.'

Think, no far as it is possible for any of us---either adversary or defender of the faith-to extricate his intelligence from the habit and the association of moral sentiment based upon the Bible, what literature could have taken its place, or fulfilled its function, though every library in the world had remained, unravaged, and every teacher's truest words had been written down.

As to Shakespeare we are reminded by the mention of his name of the monitorial item on the wasting of man (from Henry viii, iii, 2), "Today he puts forth the tender leaves, tomorrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honors thick upon him," and so on, a selection seldom adhering closely to the original words.

This is the Shakespeare in whose works we have so much biblical connection that Sprague, in his Notes on the Merchant of Venice, says "Shakespeare is so familiar with the Bible that we who know less of the Sacred Book are sometimes slow. to catch his allusions." Green's History of the English People tells graphically and convincingly of the power of the Bible at the Reformation when the translation and reading of it in the common tongue was no longer heresy and a crime punishable by fire, no more forbidden but almost the only, book in common reach.

Had Shakespeare any' book at all, that book was the Bible.

Brother Robert Burns ( The Cotter's Saturday Night) poetically describes the evening worship, and the reading of the Bible:

The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or, Moses bade autumnal warfare wage
With Malek's ungracious progeny ;
Or, how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven's avenging ire;
Or Jacob's pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah's wild, seraphic fire ;
Or other sacred seers that tune the sacred lyre.
Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heaven the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
How His first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land :
How he, who lone in Pathos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand, ,
And heard great Bab'lon's doom pronounced by
Heaven's command.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry


Joseph Fort Newton

BROTHER Toastmaster: Time is a river and books are boats. Many volumes start down that stream, only to be wrecked and lost beyond recall in its sands. Only a few, a very few, endure the testings of time and live to bless the ages following. Tonight we are met to pay homage to the greatest of all books--the one enduring Book which has traveled down to us from the far past, freighted with the richest treasure that ever any book has brought to humanity. What a sight it is to see five hundred men gathered about an open Bible- -how typical of the spirit and genius of Masonry, its great and simple faith and its benign ministry to mankind.

No Mason needs to be told what a place of honor the Bible has in Masonry. One of the great Lights of the Order, it lies open upon the altar at the center of the lodge. Upon it every Mason takes solemn vows of love, of loyalty, of chastity, of charity, pledging himself to our tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Think what it means for a young man to make such a covenant of consecration in the morning of life, taking that wise old Book as his guide, teacher and friend! Then as he moves forward from one degree to another, the imagery of the Bible becomes familiar and eloquent, and its mellow, haunting music sings its way into his heart.

And yet, like everything else in Masonry, the Bible, so rich in symbolism, is itself a symbol---that is, a part taken for the whole. It is a sovereign symbol of the Book of Faith, the Will of God as man has learned it in the midst of the years--that perpetual revelation of Himself which God is making mankind in every land and every age. Thus, by the very honor which Masonry pays to the Bible, it teaches us to revere every book of faith in which men find help for today and hope for the morrow, joining hands with the man of Islam as he takes oath on the Koran, and with the Hindu as he makes covenant with God upon the book that he loves best.

For Masonry knows, what so many forget, that religions are many, but Religion is one--perhaps we may say one thing, but that one thing includes everything--the life of God in the soul of man, and the duty and hope of man which proceed from His essential character. Therefore it invites to its altar men of all faiths, knowing that, if they use different names for "the Nameless One of a hundred names," they are yet praying to the one God and Father of all; knowing, also, that while they read different volumes, they ale in fact reading the same vast Book of the Faith of Man as revealed in the struggle and sorrow of the race in its quest of God. So that, great and noble as the Bible is, Masonry sees it as a symbol of that eternal Book of the Will of God which Lowell described when he wrote his memorable lines:

"Slowly the Bible of the race is writ, And not on paper leaves nor leaves of stone; Each age, each kindred; adds a verse to it, Texts of despair or hope, of joy or moan. While swings the sea, while mists the mountain shroud, While thunder's surges burst on cliffs of cloud, Still at the prophets' feet the nations sit."

None the less, much as we honor every book of faith in which any man has found courage to lift his hand above the night that covers him and lay hold of the mighty Hand of God, with us the Bible is supreme What Homer was to the Greeks, what the Koran is to the Arabs, that, and much more, the grand old Bible is to us. It is the mother in our literary family, and if some of its children have grown up and become wise in their own conceit, they yet rejoice to gather about its knee and pay tribute. Not only was the Bible the loom on which our language was woven, but it is a pervasive, refining, redeeming force bequeathed to us, with whatsoever else that is good and true, in the very fiber of our being. Not for a day do we regard the Bible simply as a literary classic, apart from what it means to the faiths and hopes and prayers of men, and its in weaving into the intellectual and spiritual life of our race.

There was a time when the Bible formed almost the only literature of England; and today, if it were taken away, that literature would be torn to tatters and shreds. Truly did Macaulay say that, if everything else in our language should perish, the Bible would alone suffice to show the whole range and power and beauty of our speech. From it Milton learned his majesty of song, and Ruskin his magic of prose. Carlyle had in his very blood, almost without knowing it, the rhapsody and passion of the prophets--their sense of the Infinite, of the littleness of man, of the sarcasm of providence; as Burns, before him, had learned from the same fireside Book the indestructibleness of honor and the humane pity of God which throbbed in his lyrics of love and liberty. Thus, from Shakespeare to Tennyson, the Bible sings in our poetry, chants in our music, echoes in our eloquence, and in our tragedy flashes forever its truth of the terribleness of sin, the tenderness of God, and the inextinguishable hope of man.

My brethren, here is a Book whose scene is the sky and the dirt and all that lies between--a Book that has in it the arch of the heavens, the curve of the earth, the ebb and flow of the sea, sunrise and sunset, the peaks of mountains and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, the shadow of forests on the hills, the song of birds and the color of flowers. But its two great characters are God and the Soul, and the story of their eternal life together is its one everlasting romance. It is the most human of books, telling the old forgotten secrets of the heart, its bitter pessimism and its death defying hope, its pain, its passion, its sin, its sob of grief and its shout of joy--telling all, without malice, in its Grand Style which can do no wrong, while echoing the sweet-toned pathos of the pity and mercy of God. No other book is so honest with us, so mercilessly merciful, so austere yet so tender, piercing the heart, yet healing the deep wounds of sin and sorrow.

Take this great and simple Book, white with age yet new with the dew of each new morning, tested by the sorrowful and victorious experience of centuries, rich in memories and wet with the tears of multitudes who walked this way before us--lay it to heart, love it, read it, and learn what life is, what it means to be a man; aye, learn that God hath made us for Himself, and unquiet are our hearts till they rest in Him. Make it your friend and teacher, and you will know what Sir Walter Scott meant when, as he lay dying, he asked Lockhart to read to him. "From what book?" asked Lockhart, and Scott replied, "There is but one Book!"

-Source: The Builder - November 1915

The Great Light

By Bro. Joseph Fort Newton, New York

WHAT HOMER WAS TO THE GREEKS, and the Koran to the Arabs, that, and much more, the English Bible is to us. It is the mother of our literary family, and if some of its children have grown up and become very wise in their own conceit, none the less they rejoice to gather about its knee and pay tribute.

But regard the Bible simply as a literary classic, apart from what it has been to the faiths and hopes and prayers of men, and its inweaving into the intellectual and spiritual life of a great race; is to confuse effect with cause. There is a danger lest these deeper meanings, these solemn and precious associations, be transferred to the Bible as pure literature, and we be found praising too highly as English style what was first a religious and historical experience. Not only was the Bible the loom on which our language was woven, but it is a pervasive, refining, redeeming force bequeathed to us, with whatsoever else that was good and true, in the very fibre of our being. As Father Faber has said, in a passage of singular eloquence and insight:

"It lives on the ear like a music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells which one scarcely knows how he can forego. The memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its verses. It is the representative of a man's best moments; all that there is about him of soft and gentle and pure and penitent and good speaks to him forever out of his English Bible. There is not a Protestant with one spark of religiousness about him whose spiritual biography is not in his Saxon Bible."

In 1604 King James, soon after his accession, convened the Hampton Court conference, to consider "things pretended to be amiss in the church." On the second day Reynolds, the Puritan leader, suggested a new translation of the Bible to take the place of those then extant. There was some debate, but it set on fire the fancy of the king, who had an itch for repute as a scholar, and who, under the tutorship of Buchanan, had already been working at the Psalms in verse. The outcome was the appointment of a body of revisors, some forty-seven in number, which was divided into six companies of which two were to sit at Cambridge, two at Oxford, and two at Westminster. They were to make a uniform version, answering to the original, to be read in the churches and no other. No marginal notes, except for philological purposes, were permitted, as the book was not to be controversial, but the work of all who loved and honoured the Bible, unbiased by sectarian feuds.

Not many of the revisors are otherwise known to fame, though some of them attained to high office in the church. Among them were Andrews, Overal, Reynolds, Abbott, Barlow, and Miles Smith, who wrote "the learned and religious preface to the translation." Few details as to the exact order of procedure have come down to us, and never, perhaps, has a great enterprise of like nature been carried out with so little information preserved of the labourers, their method, and manner of work. We know, however, that the work of revision occupied two years and nine months, and that use was made of all extant versions, including the Rheimish Version, from which, for example, was derived that felicitous phrase, "the ministry of reconciliation." The purpose of the revisers was thus stated, and it was reverent, far-reaching, and wise: "We never thought, from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make a bad one good, but out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against that hath been our endeavour, that our mark." And it is to this principle that our version owes its unrivalled merits. Like a costly mosaic, besides having its own felicities, it inherited the beauties of all the versions that went before.


Some time in 1611, "after long expectation and great desire," says Fuller, the new Version appeared, printed by Robert Barker, marred only by the inaccuracies inevitable at that period, and a too adulatory dedication to the king. While there is no record that it was ever publicly sanctioned by convocation, privy council or king-due, perhaps, to the great fire in 1618 it soon superseded all other versions, by virtue of its own inherent superiority, and by the middle of the next century it had become "the undisputed Bible of the English people." Nor can it ever be moved from its honoured and secure position in our religious and literary history. There need not have been a Revised Version; all that was needed, apart from the quiet process of revision, steadily going on, was to correct obvious errors in the light of later textual research. The Version of 1881, while it erased many blemishes, falls far below the stately English of the King James Bible, which is still the familiar friend of the fireside and the closet.

As a feat of translation, the Version of 1611 is unique and unmatched in the annals of literature. It is faithful not only to the letter, but to the spirit of the original, and yet it is truly an English book. Its words are in bulk Saxon, the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, for instance, having fifty-nine of its words pure English, thirty-five Saxon undefiled, and only six of Latin origin. More wonderful still is the fact that, while it used English words, it kept not only the phrases, but the flavour, spirit and essence of the language wherein the Bible was born a feat which, as Coleridge says, "almost makes us think that the translators themselves were inspired." Indeed, it may be said that the Bible was rather transferred to the English language than translated into it. That cannot be said of Homer, or of any other book that has found its way into our speech, and the reason for it was that for a thousand years the Bible had lived in the hearts of the English people, had helped to mould their language, to shape their character, and to make them what they were. As Taine pointed out, the temper of the people receiving the Book was so in harmony with that of the people from whom it came; that it seemed more like a native growth than an exotic. This could not be again in just the same way; but that it was so once is a fact beyond all thought or thankfulness. By a rare blend of circumstances we are permitted to hear the music of the Bible almost as if the original artists were playing it. One feels this in reading the Gospels, and still more in the Old Testament, but most of all perhaps, when he hears, like echoes from afar,

"The chime of rolling rivers Through the forest of the Psalms."

Back of 1611 lay a long, heroic, aspiring history from the time when Caedmon, the forlorn cowherd, fell asleep under the stars, and was bidden to sing the Bible story, down to the year when Shakespeare left London for his home on the Avon. It had been the wish of King Alfred that the young men of his realm might read the Bible in their own language, and he left an unfinished version of the Psalms when he died. But his wish had to wait until a crude and stammering tongue grew into a rich and musical speech until the tapestry was woven on which the Bible writers could work their designs. Such weavers as Aldhelm, Bede, Elfric, Wyclif, and Purvey drew their threads equally from the Bible itself and from the life of the people, until the imagery of the Book was wrought into the very fibre of the language. No other book was ever so interwoven with the life of a people, at once their supreme literary classic and the message of their Maker to their souls.

At last came Tyndale the one great figure in the story of our English Bible whose aim it was to make "the ploughboy know more about the Scripture than the priest does today." Set on fire by the spirit of God and the genius of Erasmus, by the aid of the printing press he made and published the version which was the basis of the Bible as we know and love it. Hunted as a heretic, beset by spies, he toiled in behalf of the Bible for the people, in the language of the people, in the belief that the humblest soul, when left alone with the Bible, can find the way, the truth, and the life. With an industry unwearying, and a faith unwavering, he worked amid peril and often in the shadow of death, and at last gave his life for the Bible that we might give our lives to it. Of his version Froude wrote in a famous passage: "Though since that time it has been many times revised and altered, we may say that it is substantially the Bible with which we are familiar. The peculiar genius which breathes through it, the mingled tenderness and majesty, the Saxon simplicity, the preternatural grandeur unsqualled, unapproached, in the attempted improvements of modern scholars all are here, and bear the impress of the mind of one man, William Tyndale. Lying, while engaged in that great office, under the shadow of death, the sword above his head and ready at any moment to fall, he worked, under circumstances alone perhaps truly worthy of the task which was laid upon him his spirit, as it were, divorced from the world, moved in a purer element than common air."


There was a time when the Bible formed almost the only literature of England; and today, if it were taken away, that literature would be torn to shreds and tatters. If we except a few tracts of Wyclif, all the prose literature of England has grown up since the Tyndale version was made. There was practically no history in the English tongue, no romance, and hardly any poetry, save the little-known verse of Chaucer, when the Bible was set up in the churches. Truly did Macaulay say, in his essay on Dryden, that if everything else in our language should perish, the Bible would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power. Edmund Spenser put himself to school in the prophetic music of the Bible in order to write the Faerie Queen, and Milton learned his song from the same choir. Carlyle, though he truncated his faith had in his very blood almost without knowing it, the rhapsody and thought of the prophets their sense of the infinite, of the awfulness of God, of the blindness and littleness of man, of the sarcasm of providence, of those invisible influences which give depth and meaning to human sorrow and joy which he had heard so often from the fireside Bible; as Burns, before him, had learned from the same book his truth of the indestructibleness of honour, of the humanness of the Divine Father drawing the divine in humanity toward it, which made his verse throb with the power and passion of tears. Whole volumes have been filled with the allusions to the Bible in Shakespeare, Scott, Ruskin, and Dickens, and others might be made from the writings of Eliot, Thackeray, Stevenson, Swinburne, and even Thomas Hardy. The Bible sings in our poetry, chants in our music, echoes in our eloquence, from Webster to Lincoln, and in our tragedy flashes forever its truth of the terribleness of sin, the failure of godless self-keeping, and the forlorn, wandering of the soul that drifts, blinded away from virtue. As Watts-Dunton said in his great essay on the Psalms:

"The Bible is going to be eternal. For that which decides the vitality of any book is precisely that which decides the value of any human soul not the knowledge it contains, but simply the attitude it assumes towards the universe, unseen as well as seen. The attitude of the Bible is just that which every soul must, in its highest and truest moods, always assume that of a wise wonder in front of such a universe as this that of a noble humility before a God such as He in Whose great hand we stand. This is why like the mirror of Alexander, like that most precious cup of Jemshid, imagined of the Persians the Bible reflects today, and will reflect forever, every wave of human emotion, every passing event of human life reflect them as faithfully as it did to the great and simple people in whose great and simple tongue it was written."

Here is a book whose scene is the sky and the dirt, and all that lies between a book of the open air in which seas ebb and flow, and mountains lift their peaks, and rivers shine in the sunlight, and flowers bloom, and birds sing, and suns rise and set, and forests cover the hills like the shadow of God. It is the most human of books, telling the secrets of the soul, its bitter pessimism and its death-defying hope, its pain, its passion, its sin, its sobs, and its song, as it moves "amid encircling gloom" from the cradle to the grave tells all, without malice and without mincing words, in the grand style that can do no wrong, while echoing the sweet-toned pathos of the pity of God. Not a page of it, as Walt Whitman said in a superb passage, not a verse of it not a word of it, but has been drenched with the life-blood of some patient, heroic, aspiring, God-illumined soul. No other book is so honest with us, so mercilessly merciful, so austere, and yet so tender, piercing to the dividing of marrow and bone, yet healing the deep wounds of sin and sorrow.

Above all, it tells of Him who lived "the human life of God" on earth how the Eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us in grace and truth, whose life is the light of men and whose words scatter the dark confusions of the grave, while showing us the immutable duty of love to God and man. It is a book to take to the heart; to turn to in hours of joy; to look into in times of sorrow; and to accept at all times as our friend, teacher, and guide a book of faith, hope and love, whose song of the soul, beginning in faint, wistful notes, gathers volume and melody until it swells into the great choruses of the Apocalypse, which Tennyson used to recite with trembling voice and transfigured face, and which Jowett said are better in English than in Greek. If we are ignorant, it will tell us all we need to know of God, duty, and the life beyond the tomb; if we are lost, it will bring us home; if the inner light burns low, it will kindle these poor hearts of ours with a flame from the altar of God.

What a gift to our English race, what a treasure incalculable and imperishable "a well of English undefiled," limpid, clear, and deep; a monument to our martyrs; the masterpiece of our literature; the store-house of historic memories and prophecies; the revelation of the will of God concerning us how we should love, it, read it, and be happy with it! When Sir Walter Scott was dying he asked Lockhart to read to him aloud. "From what book?" came the not unnatural question and what a lesson for our children in the simple answer: "There is but one Book."

"Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. And the spirit and the bride say, come. And he that heareth, let him say, come. And he that is athirst, let him come; and whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely."

-Source: The Builder - July 1923


Ed. Note: The following Short Talk Bulletin is not particularly tolerant of other faiths in some spots. It is a product of its time.

Upon the Altar of every Masonic Lodge, supporting the Square and Compasses, lies the Holy Bible. The old, familiar Book, so beloved by so many generations, is our Volume of Sacred Law and the Great Light in Masonry. The Bible opens when the Lodge opens; it closes when the Lodge closes. No Lodge can transact its own business, mush less initiate candidates into its mysteries, unless the Book of Holy Law lies open upon its Altar. Thus the Book of the Will of God Rules the Lodge in its labors, as the Sun Rules the Day, making its work a worship.

The history of the Bible in the life and symbolism of Masonry is a story too long to recite here. Nor can any one tell it as we should like to know it. Just when, where, and by whom the teaching and imagery of the Bible were wrought into Freemasonry, no one can tell. Anyone can have his theory, but no one can be dogmatic. As the Craft labored in the service of the Church during the Cathedral-Building period, it is not difficult to account for the Biblical coloring of its thought, even in days when the Bible was not widely distributed, and before the discovery of printing. Anyway, we can take such facts as we are able to find, leaving further research to learn further truth.

The Bible is mentioned in some of the old manuscripts of the Craft long before the revival of Masonry in 1717, as the book upon which the covenant, or oath, of a Mason was taken; but it is not referred to as a Great Light. For example, in the Harleian Manuscript, dated about 1600, the obligation of an initiate closes with the words: "So Help Me God, and the Holy Contents of this Book." In the old ritual, of which a copy from the Royal Library in Berlin is given by Krause, there is no mention of the Bible as one of the Lights. It was in England, due largely to the influence of Preston and his fellow workmen, that the Bible came to its place of honor in the Lodge. At any rate, in the rituals of about 1760 it is described as one of three Great Lights.

No Mason needs to be told what a great place the Bible has in the Masonry of our day. It is central, sovereign, supreme, a master light of all our seeing. From the Altar it pours forth upon the East, the West, and the South its white light of spiritual vision, moral law, and immortal hope. Almost every name found in our ceremonies is a Biblical name, and students have traced about seventy-five references to the Bible in the Ritual of the Craft. But more important than direct references is the fact that the spirit of the Bible, its faith, its attitude toward life, pervades Masonry, like a rhythm or a fragrance. As soon as an initiate enters the Lodge, he hears the words of the Bible recited as an accompaniment to his advance toward the light. Upon the Bible every Masons takes solemn vows of loyalty, of chastity, and charity, pledging himself to the practice of the Brotherly Life. Then he moves forward from one degree to another, the imagery of the Bible becomes familiar and eloquent and its music sings its way into his heart.

Nor is it strange that it should be so. As faith in God is the corner- stone of the Craft, so, naturally, the book which tells us the purest truth about God is its Altar-Light. The Temple of King Solomon, about which the history, legends, and symbolism of the Craft are woven, was the tallest temple of the ancient world, not in the grandeur of its architecture but in the greatest of the truths for which it stood. In the midst of ignorant idolatries and debasing superstitions the Temple on Mount Moriah stood for Unity, Righteousness, and Spirituality of God. Upon no other foundation can men build with any sense of security and permanence when the winds blow and the floods descend. But the Bible is not simply a foundation rock; it is also a quarry in which we find the truths that make us men. As in the old ages of geology rays of sunlight were stored up in vast beds of coal, for the uses of man, so in this old book the light of moral truth is stored to light the mind and warm the heart of man.

Alas, there has been more dispute about the Bible than about any other book, making for schism, dividing men in sects. But Masonry knows a certain secret, almost too simple to be found out, whereby it avoids both intolerance and sectarianism. It is essentially religious, but it is not dogmatic. The fact that the Bible lies open upon the Altar means that man must have some Divine Revelation - must seek for a light higher than human to guide and govern him. But it lays down no hard and fast dogma on the subject of revelation. It attempts no detailed interpretation of the Bible. The great Book lies open upon its Altar, and is open for all to read, open for each to interpret for himself. The tie by which our Craft is united is strong, but it allows the utmost liberty of faith and thought. It unites men, not upon a creed bristling with debated issues, but upon the broad, simple truth which underlies all creeds and over-arches all sects - faith in God, the wise Master Builder, for whom and with whom man must work.

Herein our gentle Craft is truly wise, and its wisdom was never more needed than today, when the Churches are divided and torn by angry debate. However religious teachers may differ in their doctrines, in the Lodge they meet with mutual respect and good will. At the Altar of Masonry they learn not only toleration, but appreciation. In its air of kindly fellowship, man to man, they discover that the things they have in common are greater than the things that divide. It is the glory of Masonry to teach Unity in essentials, Liberty in details, Charity in all things; and by this sign its spirit must at last prevail. It is the beautiful secret of Masonry that all just men, all devout men, all righteous men are everywhere of one religion, and it seeks to remove the hoodwinks of prejudice and intolerance so that they may recognize each other and work together in the doing of good.

Like everything else in Masonry, the Bible, so rich in symbolism, is itself a symbol - that is, a part taken for the whole. It is a symbol of the Book of truth, the Scroll of Faith, the Record of the Will of God as man has learned it in the midst of the years - the perpetual revelation of Himself which God has made, and is making, to mankind in every age and land. Thus, by the very honor which Masonry pays to the Bible, it teaches us to revere every Book of Faith in which men find help for today and hope for the morrow. For that reason, in a Lodge consisting entirely of Jews, the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the Altar, and in a Lodge in the land of Mohammed the Koran may be used. Whether it be the Gospels of the Christian, the Book of the Law of the Hebrew, the Koran of the Mussulman, or the Vedas of the Hindu; it everywhere Masonically conveys the same idea - symbolizing the Will of God revealed to man, taking such faith and vision as he has found into a great fellowship of the seekers and finders of the truth.

Thus Masonry invites to its Altar men of all faiths, knowing that, if they use different names for the "Nameless One of an Hundred Names," they are yet praying to the one God and Father of all; knowing also, that while they read different volumes, they are in fact reading the same vast Book of Faith of Man as revealed in the struggle and tragedy of the race in its quest of God. So that, great and noble as the Bible is, Masonry sees it as a symbol of that eternal, ever-unfolding Book of the Will of God which Lowell described in memorable lines:

Slowly the Bible of the race is writ,
And not on paper leaves, nor leaves of stone;
Each age, each kindred, adds a verse to it,
Text of despair or hope, of joy or moan,
While swings the sea, while mists the mountain shroud,
While thunder's surges burst on cliffs of cloud,
Still at the Prophets' feet the nations sit.

None the less, while we honor every Book of Faith in which have been recorded the way and Will of God, with us the Bible is supreme, at once the mother-book of our literature, and the master-book of the Lodge. Its truth is inwrought in the fiber of our being, with whatsoever else of the good and the true which the past has given us. Its spirit stirs our hearts, like a sweet habit of the blood; its light follows all our way, showing us the meaning and worth of life. Its very words have in them memories, echoes, and overtones of voices long since hushed, and its scenery is interwoven with the holiest associations of our lives. Our father and mothers read it, finding in it their final reasons for living faithfully and nobly, and it is thus a part of the ritual of the Lodge and the Ritual of Life.

Every Mason ought not only to honor the Bible as a great Light of the Craft; he ought to read it, live it, love it, lay its truth to heart and learn what it means to be a man. There is something in the old Book which, if it gets into a man, makes him both gentle and strong, faithful and free, obedient and tolerant, adding to his knowledge virtue, patience, temperance, self-control, brotherly love, and pity. The Bible is as high as the sky and as deep as the grave; its two great characters are God and the soul, and the story of their romance. It is the most human of books, telling us the half-forgotten secrets of our own hearts, our sins, our sorrows, our doubts, our hopes. It is the most Divine of Books, telling us that God has made us for himself, and that our hearts will be restless and lonely until we learn to rest in Him whose will is our peace.

"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the Prophets." "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted by the world."

"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Mar. 1924

Masonic Service Association of North America © 2008 Stephen Dafoe

The Lodge Room
Masonic Magazine
Templar History
Stephen Dafoe

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